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Stan Winston: Smoke and Monsters

Wizard of Weird Stan Winston has created some of Hollywood's most dazzling special effects and terrifying screen monsters
Elizabeth Snead
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Spacey, Jan/Feb 02

(continued from page 2)

Winston is also about enjoying life with unbridled enthusiasm. When he's not creating astonishing screen characters, he spends time with his family: his wife, Karen; their son, Matt, and daughter-in-law, Amy, both of whom are actors, and their infant grandson, Rowan; and their daughter, Debbie, and her husband, Erich Litoff, the co-owner of the West Hollywood, California, restaurant Cyrano.

Other than the family affair, Winston likes to hang out with his friends and play with his cool toys, including a pair of Harleys (he rides on weekends with fellow Harley Davidson Club member Schwarzenegger), an '85 AC Cobra, an '86 Porsche Turbo, a '96 Turbo and the 2001 Turbo. Did we mention the black Hummer, just like Arnold's? And let's not forget the Ferrari 360 F1 Spider being built for Winston.

"I can't help it! I'm just a guy," Winston says. "I enjoy the best of everything. I mean, it's just toys!"

Winston also enjoys speaking to students around the country, including those at his alma mater, the University of Virginia. "There are a lot of kids out there inspired by work that comes out of my studio the same way I was inspired when I was young," he says. "I often question why I'm still doing this, but when someone comes up and says, 'You're Stan Winston! I love your work!' it's so amazing that there are people out there touched by stuff I'm doing."

Despite all the robotic bells and CGI whistles, Winston's genius lies in his human touch. "All I'm about is creating memorable characters for motion picture history. It's not about technology. It's about writers writing wonderful stories with fantastic characters and me being able to create a visual image that's beyond what you would expect."

After seeing his characters in Spielberg's A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, even the scientific community is taking his film fantasies seriously. Winston recently became a Massachusetts Institute of Technology sponsor, and his studio is collaborating with the Digital Life consortium of MIT's Media Lab.

"They've realized that artificial intelligence requires human interactivity," Winston explains. "A robot learns by interacting with a human and there's a better chance for that with an appealing organic character rather than something that looks like a machine. So we're sharing our technology of building robots with organic character and movement."

"There's a lot of enthusiasm here about what Stan Winston can do to advance what we do," says Alexandra Kahn, MIT's press liaison. "The merger entails sharing our artificial-intelligence technology with his studio and benefiting from their ability to create lifelike creatures."

Imagine Teddy, the talking bear-bot in A.I., come to life. According to Winston, it's not only possible, it's inevitable. "Historically, anything that we can imagine, we make. The creative mind imagines it and it's the human condition to make it real. That is the essence of humanity. When Jules Verne wrote 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, there were no such things as submarines. When he wrote From the Earth to the Moon, there were no rocket ships. Steven Spielberg just made A.I. about artificial intelligence and now we're helping create it."

"Isn't that just the coolest?" he asks, savoring another puff and grinning like a 12-year-old movie-monster fan.

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